Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, supplied with an increasing amount of advanced weaponry by Russia, have downed more than ten aircraft over the past three months.
Since May 2, pro-Russian separatists have been confirmed to have shot down 11 aircraft over eastern Ukraine. Since shooting down flight MH17 on July 17, the rebels have downed an additional two Ukrainian Sukhoi 25 fighter jets.
The following Reuters graphic illustrates the aircraft that the separatists have shot down compared to each plane’s maximum usable altitude.
Prior to shooting down Malaysian airlines flight MH17, the separatists relied exclusively on Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS). MANPADS are highly portable systems that are relatively easy to use.
Crucially, MANPADS have a range of between 13,000 and 23,000 feet, ensuring that the separatists could visually confirm that their targets were military aircraft before firing.
On July 17, an SA-11 Buk missile system, which can shoot down aircraft like MH17 flying at 33,000 feet, was transported into eastern Ukraine from Russia.
Buk missile systems, unlike MANPADS, have a radar targeting system that allowed the separatists to fire on MH17 without visual confirmation. Instead, the plane would have appeared as a radar signature that the rebels, without proper military training, would have been unable to differentiate from a Ukrainian military plane.
The following Reuters graphic, containing information from the U.S. intelligence community, demonstrates the locations where the Buk system was spotted.
The separatist’s capability of downing aircraft appears to match Russia’s goal of having the militants function as an autonomous military organisation that is dependent upon Russia for arms and training.
Russia’s overall strategy “has been to create a proper army,” Jonathan Eyal, the international director of the military think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, told FT.
“It is not to create a guerrilla organisation. It is not a resistance movement. Russia is trying to create a proper military force.”
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